Dana Shai

Interdisciplinary Center Hertzelia (IDC), Israel

Beyond Words: Introducing Parental Embodied Mentalizing

It is widely accepted that the early relationship the child develops with the parent influences diverse aspects of his development. Parental mentalizing—the capacity to consider and treat the child as a psychological agent motivated by mental states, such as thoughts, beliefs, and feelings—has been identified as a significant factor shaping the infant’s development. Thus far, parental mentalizing has been conceptualized and assessed via verbal and semantic representations of the relationship (Meins, 1999; Slade, 2002). We call for the elaboration of parental mentalizing to include the scrutiny of the whole-body interactive dynamic process, in which mental states of parent and infant are expressed kinaesthetically, to further elucidate the mechanisms through which parental mentalizing may be transmitted to the infant and influence his development. Specifically, Parental Embodied Mentalizing (PEM)—a construct and an observational method of assessment—is introduced, reflecting an attempt to capture the meeting of minds of parent and infant from an embodied relational perspective. Presentation will discuss findings from a study using a strategically selected sample of 150 mother-infant dyads videotaped interacting when the infant was six months and drawn from the NICHD SECCYD (1997). Findings include inter-rater reliability and construct validity of the developed PEM coding system, as well as predictive results pertaining to child attachment security and developmental trajectories. These results and their implications for developmental research will be discussed.

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